Normal, Ill. – July 16, 2019 - The Vikings first game after the All-Star break was full of opportunities. The most noteworthy was getting to play the Bloomington Bobcats at the Corn Crib, home of the Normal CornBelters.
In the game itself, the Vikings finally converted some opportunities with runners on, but squandered a few too many, leaving the door open just enough for the Bobcats to escape with the 9-8 victory Tuesday night.
The back and forth affair ultimately turned into the fifth loss in seven tries for the Vikings against the Bobcats and trimmed their lead in the standings to one game.
Southland got off to an excellent start, scoring two in the first on Kellen Quigley’s (Webster University/Bolingbrook, Ill.) one out single. Kyel Alexander (Moraine Valley/Chicago, Ill.) singled in the second to score Billy Curtis (Moraine Valley/Lockport, Ill.), and in the third PJ Raines (Santa Rosa JC/Chicago, Ill.) knocked in Logan Anderson (South Suburban/Chicago, Ill) to give the Vikings a firm 4-0 advantage.
Jake Ruppert (St. Xavier University/Tinley Park, Ill.) made his fourth start of the season, and delivered six solid innings for the Vikings while striking out eight. He cruised through his first four innings, allowing just two hits. However, in the fourth and fifth innings his offense went down in short order, unable to create any additional separation from the Bobcats.
“We need to be better in those situations,” manager Dave Letourneau said. “Yeah lately we haven’t gotten a lead, but when you can finally get a lead, you’ve got to play with that lead, and you’ve got to tack on. We didn’t do a good job of adding on and having good at-bats after the third.”
The offensive stagnation caught up to the Vikings in the bottom of the fifth, when a fly ball into centerfield bounced passed Alexander to the wall for a leadoff triple. An error by Raines the next at-bat allowed for a run to score, and from there the inning unraveled, as the Bobcats scored five runs, including a two run home-run, to take a 5-4 advantage after 5 innings of play.
“The game can turn around real fast when you decide to take a couple innings off on the offensive side,” Letourneau said. “One simple error in this game can turn into a five, six or seven run inning. In the sixth, the Vikings used a little small ball to bring Joe Egan (Loras College/Chicago, Ill.) around for the tying run. Ruppert worked a scoreless sixth to keep the game tied 5-5 before turning the ball over to the bullpen.
Logan Strutz (Triton/Lockport, Ill.) came out to work the seventh, and after giving up a leadoff walk followed by a single, gave up the lead once again. The Bobcats would actually tack on a pair of runs in the inning, going up 7-5 heading in to the eighth inning.
The Vikings bats responded, as Alexander singled again to pick up his third and fourth RBIs of the game. Later in the inning, Anderson singled to put the Vikings back in front for the first time since the fifth inning.
Mike Tobin (Concordia Chicago/Hickory Hills, Ill.) then worked a 1-2-3 eighth and suddenly it seemed like the Vikings could escape with an 8-7 victory. Trey Ricko (UT-Martin/Plainfield, Ill.) came out to close in the ninth, but struggled with his command, issuing a leadoff walk followed by a single and another walk to load the bases. A wild pitch then scored the tying run.
After intentionally walking to load the bases, Ricko picked up a strikeout for the second out, and was one strike away from sending the game to extras. Instead he unleashed his second wild pitch of the inning, allowing the winning run to score and the celebration to begin for the Bobcats, who improved to 17-13 on the season.
“8-7 going into the eighth with Tobin and Ricko, that’s the situation I want. It just didn’t work out. Tobin was great, Ricko didn’t have his stuff,” Letourneau said. “I think it’s one of those things where we don’t play our best game against them.”
The loss dropped the Vikings to 17-11 on the year, and despite showing some positive steps all around, mistakes in the field tipped the scales just out of the Vikings reach yet again. Letourneau believes the team will need to play a perfect game Thursday when they take on a Crestwood team that banged the Vikings up for 9 runs on 15 hits their last time out.
Will Trubshaw will join Jon Zaghloul for the call of the game from Howie Minas Field in Midlothian. First pitch between the Vikings and Panthers is set for 7 p.m. and can be found on the Southland Vikings and Crestwood Panthers Facebook Pages.